With the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons select—Jalen Green?

Most people believe that the Detroit Pistons selecting Cade Cunningham, the Oklahoma State star, with the first overall pick in this year’s draft is a foregone conclusion. But that may not be the case on draft night, with 19-year-old NBA G-League Ignite phenom Jalen Green making a strong case to be the Pistons’ face of the franchise.

Photo by FIBA, distributed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license

His head coach Brian Shaw, gushed about his potential in an interview with Marc Spears of the Undefeated saying, “He has that “it” factor that when you see it, you say ‘OK, I’m keeping an eye on this guy because he has a chance to be really special'”. Green and Cunningham were the top-rated prospects in their high school class, meaning all eyes have been on them for quite a while. The leading scorer on the Ignite last year, Green showcased his enormous potential as a gifted shot creator from all three levels, while flashing improved passing and defensive ability. Wing prospects with his combination of athleticism and shot making ability do not come along too often, with his solid three-point percentage from the NBA three-point line boding well for his potential as a shooter.

The G League advantage

In April 2020, the NBA announced a higher salary for elite prospects in addition to a one-year developmental program outside of its traditional schedule. These prospects will have the opportunity to play exhibition contests alongside and against veteran players from other G League teams and even foreign national teams. Green’s decision to forgo college for the G League may have been the best decision he made for his career and draft prospects. Besides being able to earn a salary, Green was also able to learn from his veteran teammates Jarrett Jack and Amir Johnson, to name a couple. The impact that veteran leadership and mentorship can have on young players cannot be understated. He will enter the league with an advantage over his fellow draft picks because of his time in the G League, learning the ropes from veterans who have firsthand knowledge of the NBA. In an interview with Bleacher Report, he confirms as much, saying, “I learned how to be a pro early. I was put in a pro setting. Improved my pro habits on and off the court.”

Hard to argue with that as Green averaged an impressive 17.9 PTS, 4.1 REB and 2.8 AST while shooting 46.1% from the field, 36.5% from the three-point line and 82.9% from the free throw line last year with the Ignite. In their one and only playoff game against the Raptors 905, Green showed he wasn’t afraid of the moment, scoring a team-high 30 points, adding 7 assists, five rebounds and 3 steals in a losing effort. The numbers put up by Green in the G League may be more impressive than any of his fellow draft picks, simply because it came against tougher competition as a player straight out of high school. That alone is enough for the Pistons to seriously consider making him the first overall selection, giving him the proverbial keys to the franchise.

” It’d be hard pressed for me to believe anybody out there is more talented, better prepared and has what it takes more so than Jalen Green.”

g league ignite head coach brian shaw

Fit with Detroit

Last year, the Pistons used their lottery pick on 6-foot-5 point guard Killian Hayes, who showed promise handling the rock and shooting off the dribble in Europe before coming over to the NBA. While he spent a lot of time last year on the shelf due to injuries, he flashed potential as a lead guard at times. It is too early to give up on Hayes, who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Bringing in Cunningham, a terrific lead guard who can run an offense while offering defense and shooting, would signal trouble for Hayes, who might have trouble adjusting to life off the ball. Rookies need time to develop and coming over from Europe, he needs time to adjust to the pace of the NBA; an effort hampered by an injury-riddled season. Meanwhile, Green would be his ideal backcourt mate, who can shoot from anywhere on the floor, score in bunches and compliment the more traditional point guard in Hayes. Green also possesses all the tools to be a terrific defender at the next level, although he is not there yet, since he needs to get stronger. Regardless, coach Shaw saw his improvement on defense firsthand as the season progressed. “He got better and better at playing all the different facets of defense from team defense to individual defense”, said Shaw. Speaking with Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan, Shaw is also quick to say that he cannot judge the other top three prospects: Cunningham, USC Trojans big man Evan Mobley and Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs. However, he stresses, “it’d be hard pressed for me to believe anybody out there is more talented, better prepared and has what it takes more so than Jalen Green.”

With jaw-dropping athleticism and elite scoring potential in the mold of a young Kobe Bryant, the Pistons may have a difficult time passing on Green. In fact, Pistons general manager Troy Weaver is seriously considering Green and Mobley in addition to Cunningham, according to Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo. Clearly, Detroit is doing their due diligence with such an important decision and selecting Cunningham may not be the foregone conclusion it appears to be.


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